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Full text of "Women labouring in the Lord : a sermon preached at Wantage, on St. Mary Magdalen's Day, July 22, l863"

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Published by request. 




The proceeds of this Sermon {if any) are to be given to 
St. Marfs Home at Wantage. 

M0m£n; l^abourhrcj; in flj^ ^iDrb. 

ST. MARK xiv. 8. 


T^HIS day's anniversary, my brethren, invites 
-^ us to reflect with humble thankfulness how 
all along from the very beginning of the Gospel 
our gracious Master has condescended to make 
use of Women's Work, in preparing men's hearts 
for His kingdom, and in promoting it when its 
time came. 

Before and beyond all, there is the momentous 
and mysterious decree, that we were to be saved 
by "The Child-bearing," Not without the in- 
strumentality of a woman would the Great Al- 
mighty God vouchsafe to be made Man, " God 
sent forth His Son, made of a Woman ;" through 
His mother alone partaking of the substance of 
our flesh ; of a woman vouchsafing to be born, of 
a woman to be nursed, and in His man's nature 
cared for, and educated, and ministered unto, by 
a woman, until He was full thirty j'ears old. 

No other instance can come up to this ; but it is 
observable how from time to time, doubtless not 
without a special providence, women were selected 

4 Women Labouring in the Lord. 

to be His agents or occasions for new steps to be 
taken, new doors, as it were, to be opened, in the 
progress and diffusion of His marvellous mercy. 

Thus, when He would shew Himself to the Sa- 
maritans, half heathen as they were, and prepare 
them for His Spirit which was to come, with His 
Evangelist Philip to convert and His Apostles 
to confirm them, He drew to Jacob's well, by 
His secret guiding, that Woman of whom we 
have all read, and caused her to inquire of Him 
the best way and place of worship. A woman was 
His first messenger to that remarkable people. 

To a "Woman, to her who had had an issue of 
blood twelve years, was given, in reward of her 
faith and humility, the privilege of being the first 
to have revealed to her the healing (might I not 
say the sacramental ?) Virtue, which abode in 
the very hem of His garment, to meet the touch 
of Faith. 

Women, as far as we are told, were the first 
who had the honour allowed them of ministering 
to Him of their substance. 

In His last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, 
in His lodging at Bethany, on His way to Calvary, 
around His Cross both before and after His death, 
beside His grave both before and after His resur- 
rection, we all know what a part they took and 
how highly they were favoured. The Saint of 
this day, as has been often remarked, became an 
Evangelist, commissioned to announce the Gospel 



Women Lahouring in the Lord. 5 

of the Resurrection to tlie Apostles themselves. 
She first found grace to see our risen Saviour, and 
with or without her certain holy women, as ap- 
pears by St. Matthew's Gospel, were first privileged 
to touch Him. "They came and held Him by 
the feet." None of them indeed appears to have 
been present at His Ascension; but not without 
" the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus," did 
the Apostles after that event continue in the upper 
room, in prayer and supplication, waiting, as the 
Holy Ghost said by the Prophet, " for His loving- 
kindness in the midst of His temple." 

And to crown all, the narrative in the Acts 
clearly implies that the Holy Spirit, when He 
came down, found the women praying with the 
Apostles " with one accord in one place," and 
made them partakers of Himself, sealing them 
with His blessings variously, according to the 
various work which He had prepared for them. 

Thenceforward the daughters as M'ell as the 
sons began to prophesy, the handmaidens as well 
as the servants had the Spirit poured out upon 
them ; and they prophesied in that sense especially 
in which Miriam was a prophetess — in festival 
ceremonies, in holy psalms and hymns. Thence- 
forward, again, the Church had her deaconesses, 
or whatever they might be called, whom St. Paul 
so often salutes as " women that laboured with 
him in the Gospel," or " laboured much in the 
Lord." Whether wives, as Priscilla, whom God 


6 Women Labouring in the Lord. 

enabled so to lielp her husband in the work of 
conversion that " all the Churches of the Gen- 
tiles" had to thank her ; or widows experienced 
" in bringing up children, in waiting on strangers, 
in washing the saints' feet, in relieving the af- 
flicted, in diligently following every good work;" 
or those, lastly, whom he congratulates as hap- 
piest of all, who were willing to " abide even as 
himself," caring only "for the things of the 
Lord," and enabled to attend on Him " without 

Eminent of course among them, and over them 
all, Holy Scripture sets forth to us, from the An- 
nunciation even to Pentecost, as the chosen type 
of the Church, and pattern of all Christian women, 
virgins, wives, and widows alike, our Lord's own 
highly- favoured Mother, the representative of the 
Christian as Eve was of the natural woman. 

But were we to select any one saying of our 
Lord which more than others might seem to em- 
body the whole duty of Woman, and the secret of 
accomplishing it so far as it is ever accomplished, it 
would not perhaps be far wrong to lay one's finger 
on the simple iitterance, " She hath done what 
she could." " What she had, that she hath ofiered." 
Could any form of words more exactly describe 
the peculiar character of Christian Womanhood — 
a deep sense of helplessness, but a deeper sense of 
duty ? That saying, with the occasion of it, stands 
out as one of the most noticeable among the few 

Women Labouring in the Lord. 7 

instances — each of them strongly and distinctly 
marked — in which our Lord vouchsafed to utter 
words of personal praise to individuals in their 
own hearing. I do not believe that there are 
more than ten or twelve such instances altogether 
in the four Gospels, even if we include such say- 
ings as " Thy faith hath made thee whole." 

Very interesting and instructive it would prove 
to examine all these cases in detail : at present 
I will only point out that five of the twelve relate 
to women, and two of the five to the same woman 
at difierent times ; that is, to Mary of Bethany, the 
sister of Lazarus. Of her in her hearing, Christ 
had said some time before, " Mary hath chosen the 
good part ;" now He says, " She hath wrought a 
good work upon Me : she hath done what she 
could. Verily I say unto you. Wheresoever this 
gospel shall be preached throughout the whole 
world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken 
of for a memorial of her." blessed woman, to 
be once and again so commended by Him who 
shall come to be her Judge, the Judge of us all ! 
first, to be assured out of His own mouth that 
she was not deceiving herself; that the part 
which she was professing to have chosen was 
really the good part, that she had really chosen 
it, that it should never be taken away from her ! 
Then as to the matter of the anointing : what 
would any one of us poor uncertain backsliders 
give to be quite sure of having pleased our Lord, 

8 Women Labmiring in the Lord. 

were it but in one action only of our Kves ? 
as sure as Mary of Bethany was that she had 
pleased Him in pouring the ointment on His 

In both, instances, you will observe, Mary had 
been attacked, and needed defence. Before, it had 
been her own sister who found fault, now it was 
Judas Iscariot, countenanced by some other of 
the disciples. Each time it was the same kind 
of censure, though proceeding from very different 
persons with very different minds. However, 
in neither case, perhaps, would it have seemed to 
us such a very pressing emergency. It was not 
as in former instances, when there were broken 
hearts to be healed, or heart-breaking responsi- 
bilities to be newly imposed : " a woman in the city 
that was a sinner" to be assured of entire absolu- 
tion ; or a poor fisherman to be charged with the 
kej's of the kingdom of heaven. Here, it was 
simply an unfair judgment passed on a zealous 
worshipper's way of honouring her Master. But 
our Lord's tone in silencing the objectors shews 
with how deep and tender sympathy He marks 
the thoughts of His loving daughters' hearts. 
Mary was eminently a " tender and delicate 
woman," and would deeply feel both her sister's 
reproof, and the scornful, if not malicious, saying 
of Judas : the rather, as in both instances, op- 
posite as the persons and their intentions were, 
what they said was plausible enough to disturb 

Women Labouring in the Lord. 9 

a mind in the least degree scrupulous. "What 
sort of a devotion is this, which leaves a sister to 
serve alone? which lays out on ointments and 
perfumes, offered to Him who needs them not, 
a sura of money which might go a good way in 
feeding the hungry or clothing the naked?" Who 
can say that there is nothing in such a remon- 
strance ? or that it will not tell most upon the 
good and kind hearts, that care most for their 
kindred and for their poor neighbours ? Doubt- 
less, as the bystanders and some even of His 
disciples entered into the feeling which the traitor 
was first to express, and broke out in tones of 
deep displeasure, implying that they were seriously 
shocked ; so the beloved Mary herself could hardly 
help being in perplexity, as many on like occa- 
sions have been before and since. 

But He that searcheth the hearts, and knoweth 
what is the mind of His good Spirit, the meaning 
and purpose which He puts into the sayings and 
doings of His holy ones. He interfered, as He 
never fails to do sooner or later on behalf of the 
humble and meek ; He spake out words of wisdom 
and power, which have settled the matter for 
ever, to her and to the whole Church. Twice He 
spake : once to the traitor, and once to those 
whom the traitor was misleading. To Judas apart, 
" Do thou let her alone ; against the day of My 
burying hath she done this." By His manner 
and look as well as His words He was speak- 

10 Women Labouring in the Lord. 

ing to His betrayer's conscience ; and startling 
him it may be with the thought, ' Surely this 
thing is known.' To the rest He seems to say, 
" Do 1/e ' let her alone ; why trouble ye her ? she 
hath wrought a good work on Me/" To all, 
"For ye have the poor with you always, and 
whensoever ye will ye may do them good : but 
Me ye have not always." 

The drift of His words plainly is, that both 
uses of our worldly substance are religious and 
right ; that each must be attended to in its sea- 
son : that as the poor and their claims can 
"never cease out of the land," — they are al- 
ways within reach, and we are perpetually to 
be helping them ; — so there are special times 
and seasons, when such as love and honour our 
gracious Lord feel especially called on to lay out 
money in honour of Him, and as part of their 
witness to Him before men. One of these occa- 
sions would be of course His funeral ; which our 
Saviour proceeds to speak of as a thing so near at 
hand, that to His all-seeing eye this pouring out 
of the ointment was as a part of the ceremonial, 
and was so taken by Him, though Mary herself 
knew it not, but was simply offering her very best 
to shew how dearly she loved Him. 

We may remark by the way that His approba- 
tion sanctions and hallows all the little courtesies 
and self-denying services which Christians practise 
one towards another in their daily and common 

Women Labouring in the Lord. 11 

life ; all the kind attentions which the delicate 
loving heart suggests : while through a slight 
and almost imperceptible touch, in another nar- 
rative by the same Evangelist, we are made to 
understand with what a holy and charitable cau- 
tion our Saviour would have us guard our own 
and other persons' demeanour on such occasions. 
The place which I allude to is in the fourth chap- 
ter of St. John's Gospel. The disciples, return- 
ing from an errand to the place where they had 
left our Saviour alone, "marvelled that He uri-s 
talking with a nvman." That, I believe, is the cor- 
rect translation of the words : do they not imply 
a general rule of reserve in our Master's conver- 
sation, which for our sakes He vouchsafed to set 
Himself, and which all who desire to walk warily, 
and perfect themselves in His divine Image, would 
do well to bear in mind ? 

But to return to what took place at Bethany. 
Doubtless He intended in so rebuking Judas to 
convey to us a spiritual rather than a social 
lesson. It is commonly observed, and I see no 
reason to doubt it, that He designed here to 
adopt as a law of His spiritual kingdom the sen- 
timent which He had so long before put into the 
heart of His favoured ones, under the dispensation 
of types and shadows. " The house which I build 
is great, for great is our Lord above all gods." 
Do not ask only what good will come of these 
noble buildings, of these graceful sculptures, of 

12 Women Labouring in the Lord. 

these enchanting sounds, forms, and colours, and 
the like ; but where your God is to be honoured, 
strive without stint to honour Him with your 
best in every kind; only taking care that it is 
your own best, that you are not giving Him what 
is not yours to give. I say, I cannot doubt that 
our Lord reallj^ meant as much as this : He was 
not merely condescending, as some have thought, 
to the innocent infirmities of His people, when 
He thus accepted outward beauty in holy things, 
but was promulgating a true part of the more 
excellent way. 

But neither is this the main point to which 
His Scripture in that passage, and His provi- 
dence by this day's ceremonial, would draw our 
attention. There is something broader, and 
deeper, and higher to be thought of. For the 
words express the great principle of Sacrifice : 
especially of such sacrifice as His lowest and 
weakest can ofier. " She hath done what she 
could." " TA'hat she had — she herself, this very 
person and no other — f/tat she hath ofiered — hath 
o-iven it all unto Me." What more could have 


been said of the greatest Saint, nay even of the 
highest Archano'cl? yet what less can be said of 
the poorest and meanest worshipper, — nay, (for I 
will say it,) of the most grievous sinner, truly re- 
penting and coming to God by faith ? It is the 
rule, the great charter, of Divine equity : " If there 
be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to 

Women Labouring in the Lord. 13 

that a man hath, and not according to that he 
hath not." Not, of course, that all saints are 
alike holy, any more than all sinners are alike 
bad and miserable ; but that He who alone sees 
men as they are, vouchsafes in His mysterious 
mercy to accept them as they are, provided they 
truly submit and surrender their whole being 
into His hands. 

"She hath wrought a good work upon Me." 
" She, this very woman whom you blame, this 
Mary of Bethany whom you are trying to put out 
of countenance for what you call a wrong way of 
manifesting her love, — I know that love, how 
deep it lies in her soul. I know her willing 
mind, what she would part with, what she would 
endure, if she could thereby save Me the least of 
the pangs that are coming on Me. She knows 
not yet of those pangs, but I who know them 
have put this instinct in her ajffectionate womanly 
heart, to pay Me this tribute while she had Me 
yet with her. I have by My warnings to My 
disciples, or in other ways known to Myself, 
caused her to have thoughts how it may be with 
Me before long. And having by her this costly 
thing, she humbly offers it for My acceptance, in 
token that she offers herself and her all, and 
would do so a thousand times if she could. And 
she shall not be disappointed of her hope. I 
accept her gift beforehand, as I shall accept what 
she, or others like her, will offer for My burial ; 

14 Women Labouring in the Lord. 

and My will is that her name and this which she 
hath now done shall accompany Mine own Name 
and the memory of My Passion in all ages and 
nations to the end of the world." Was this de- 
creed, think you, for a special honour only to 
her, or was it not, in part at least, for our sakes ? 
For our sakes no doubt this is written, that all 
people, nations, and languages, all sorts and de- 
grees of the sinful children of Adam, might know 
how to draw near their Saviour — the Saviour of 
all alike — and be sure of a loving welcome. 

Is there any one, for example, whose heart is 
newly broken with the consciousness, sudden or 
of gradual growth, that his or her life, be it much 
or little as men count life, has been hitherto worse 
than wasted ; that every hour of approach to death 
has been an hour of departure from God ; — any 
one who feels as though nothing remained to be 
offered but the dregs of earthly being ; years that 
can have no pleasure, a polluted body perhaps, and 
a sin- sick soul ; hopes blighted, and chances of 
doing good utterly cast away ? yet let that afflicted 
one come to kneel at the feet of Jesus, and offer 
him or herself, with all that sin and sorrow, to be 
punished if need be, but pardoned if it may be ; let 
such a man shew himself in earnest by doing what 
little he can in the way of confession and amend- 
ment, and so go on patiently waiting ; sooner or 
later he shall hear in his secret heart, and here- 
after it shall be said of him in the hearing of the 

Women Labouring in the Lord. 15 

whole world, " This My servant hath done what 
he could ; what he had, though it were but a 
wreck remaining of that which I had at first 
given him, he hath laid it all at My feet, he 
hath kept nothing back ; therefore I own him 
for Mine, Mine wholly and for ever." 

Suppose now a different case : a person brought 
up in the ordinary way, with a certain degree of 
knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
and leading a respectable life — outwardly screened 
from great temptations, and not tormented with 
strong, inward impulses to evil ; suppose, I say, such 
an one coming to see and feel after many years 
how low his standard has been, how lukewarm his 
heart, how much evil he has done, how much 
more good left undone, because he was simply 
contented to be as other men. But now he wakes 
up like Jacob, with a feeling, " The Lord has 
been here all the time and I knew it not : how 
dreadful is my condition ! I have been going on 
all these years in a commonplace way, self-satis- 
fied, self-approving, because my fellow sinners 
seemed to approve ; and through that whole time 
the Saviour^s eye has been upon me, His heavenly 
messengers, I now perceive, have been coming 
and going between me and Him : and where am 
I still ? and how am I the better ? I cannot go 
on so ; what must I do that I may work the 
works of God ?" 

In many such cases, perhaps in the greater 

16 Women Labouring in the Lord. 

part, the answer of Divine Grace to such a question 
will be the same as when it was once asked of 
our Saviour, — " This is the work of God, that ye 
believe on Him whom He hath sent/^ * Do not 
attempt great things ; make no sudden outward 
changes : whatsoever you do now in the way of 
duty, go on doing it, but strive and pray, pray 
and strive to do it all with a new spirit, as to 
Him who loved you and gave Himself for you.' 

But in every generation of Christians there will 
be some to whom the Divine Voice will rather 
seem to say, ' If thy will, thy real longing, is to 
be perfect, sell whatsoever thou hast and give to 
the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven ; 
and come take up the Cross, and follow Me.* 
Happy they who find grace in either of these 
two ways to understand and obey their Lord's 
call. Of both it will be said, " They have done 
what they could." 

But Holy Scripture teaches beyond all ques- 
tion, that those who have the higher call are the 
more highly favoured ; and it is a signal mercy 
shewn to our time and country, that among 
Christian women especially that higher call comes 
to many more than it did in some former gene- 
rations. The daughters of our people have been 
made aware, by many remarkable turns of Pro- 
vidence, how great a power has been given them 
for good, — great good to their sinful or suffering 
fellow- creatures, infinite good to their own souls, 

Women Labouring in the Lord. 17 

— and what a pity and loss it has been, their 
having hitherto made so little use of that power. 
[And symptoms, I trust, are not altogether want- 
ing, of something like the same holy zeal in our 
young Men also. Why should it not be so ? 
Why may we not hope that even within this 
generation Christian Brotherhoods as well as 
Sisterhoods of Merey may be found taking their 
place in the work of Christ among us ? seeing that 
there is no more palpable fact in all Church history, 
than that Almighty God has ever been pleased 
to make use of such communities — devoted men 
severing themselves more or less from the ordi- 
nary ties and affections of earth —when His time 
was come for converting, not here and there one, 
but whole nations, to the obedience of His Son^.] 
It is well that the idea of Counsels of Perfection 
has become a little more familiar to some of us, 
were it only to counteract in some measure the 
tendency of our age to grow more selfish, as 
material comforts are brought more and more 
within reach. Indeed, my brethren, when we 
look round and see the condition of our poor, 
our forlorn, our sick, our children, and our fallen 
ones, how can we choose but pray earnestly for 
more Maries, if I may so speak, in Bethany ? 
that He may increase the number and holiness of 
such as are willing thus to sacrifice and surrender 

• The passage in brackets is slightly enlarged from what was 
said in the Sermon on this subject. 

18 Women Labouring in the Lord. 

themselves to His immediate service. It is a 
great grace wtich you need, seriously to under- 
take sucli a plan of life ; greater still, to carry it 
out soberly and with entire perseverance. Mary 
did not mind breaking the box in order to 
pour the ointment on our Saviour's head ; and 
these our Sisters must deal somewhat rudely 
with themselves, if they are to pour out all that 
they are and all that they have — some more, 
some less, but each what herself can — on Christ's 
mystical Body ; they must deny themselves many 
things which they would naturally, and otherwise 
might innocently, enjoy. 

Will you not pray for them, and if you pray 
will you not give, lest your prayer prove a 
mockery ? Will you not both pray and give to 
your power, that you may have some share in 
the comfortable words, " She hath done what she 
could ?" 

I will venture to add one word on a different 
but not altogether an irrelevant topic. 

If any person's heart begin to fail him on ac- 
count of evils which may be feared for our Church, 
when we look on present signs, and remember the 
foreboding intimation, " When the Son of Man 
Cometh, shall He find faith on the earth !" — let 
such an one take comfort from our Saviour's way 
of encouraging Mary ; " She is come beforehand 
to anoint My body to the burying." If the worst 
that any one now anticipates should take place, 

Women Labouring in the Lord. 19 

then will be the time to remember that the mourn- 
ful pleasure of waiting on our dying Lord was 
itself a great honour and blessing, and that it led 
to the joyful, unalloyed transports of Easter. So 
do ye, and so shall ye be rewarded : for His sake 
"Who liveth and was dead, and behold He is 
alive for evermore. Amen and Amen." 


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